A Seymour man is asking city officials to investigate an incident where he says a city firefighter made “offensive” and “racist” comments.
Bucky Foist told Seymour City Council members Dec. 27 he recently lost his job at a local restaurant because he confronted the fireman and called the fire department to report what happened.
Foist did not name the fireman during the public meeting but said the city should not tolerate bigotry from any civil servant.
Mayor Craig Luedeman agreed and said the board of public works and safety would ultimately have the final decision on what, if any, action is taken after an investigation is conducted.
“I don’t want it to look like we aren’t doing anything,” Luedeman said. “But the board of works is actually the group that would hear this. They are actually the governing function of the policy of the city.”
Because there is no fire complaint review board in place, Luedeman said the investigation will follow protocol established by the city’s police complaint review board.
The complaint board, which likely will consist of two firefighters, one city council representative and two citizens, will be charged with making a determination regarding the validity of the complaint and making a non-binding recommendation concerning disciplinary action, if warranted, to Fire Chief Brad Lucas.
Lucas would then bring a recommendation to the board of works if the punishment is more than five days suspension. State law allows fire chiefs to suspend firefighters for up to 40 hours without board approval.
“I’ll do whatever the board of works asks me to do,” Lucas said.
The board of works consists of the mayor, Councilman Jim Rebber and Larry Sunbury.
Luedeman said he expects to take the first steps during Thursday’s board of works meeting.
“I appreciate you stepping forward because we don’t tolerate this type of stuff in the city,” Luedeman told Foist during the Dec. 27 council meeting.
Lucas said the fire department has a policy on general conduct of firefighters, but it doesn’t specifically address racial comments made publicly by personnel.
“It has never been an issue because we haven’t had to deal with it,” he said. “We’ll look at what we need to do in the future (with creating a more specific policy). That’s why all policies are made because something happened.”
Foist said the incident occurred after Election Day, when the fireman came into The Flying Pink Pig BBQ where Foist worked to pick up an order of food for the fire department.
Foist said the fireman was in uniform when he came in and said, “Thank God for Trump, huh?” to which Foist said he asked, “Why do you say that?”
The fireman then said, “Well, because of you illegal immigrants,” Foist said.
“I kind of chuckled and said, ‘Well, I don’t know how you can tell I’m half-Mexican, but I was born in this country,’” Foist said. “So I said, ‘I’m really not understanding your comment,’ and he said, ‘Well, it’ll just help.’”
After walking away and getting the order together, Foist said he tried to get the fireman out of the restaurant as quickly as possible.
“He stood in the dining room and kept rattling on about illegal immigrants and some other stuff,” Foist said. “As he was leaving, he said, ‘Sorry for all the comments. It’s just a Trump kind of day.’”
After the fireman left, Foist said he called the fire department and identified himself and where he worked but said he wasn’t calling on behalf of his place of employment.
“He’s a fireman for this community, in uniform and running at the mouth like that in front of the public, and I just wanted to let them know that reflects poorly on the fire department and this community,” Foist said.
Foist said whoever he talked to thanked him for calling and said they would say something about it. But since then, nothing has happened, Foist said.
“I lost my job for calling the fire department,” Foist said. “It’s my understanding that any time you put on an EMT uniform, a nurse’s uniform, a firefighter’s uniform or a police officer’s uniform, your personal life and personal views are to stay at the door.”
Foist said a firefighter should be someone he can trust with his life in the event of a fire or other emergency, but now, he questions that because of the comments the firefighter made.
Having worked in the restaurant business in Seymour since he was 16, Foist said if he was seen or heard by the public in his uniform making comments that could be seen as offensive, he would have been fired.
“If some peon in the community like me can get fired for just bringing it to the fire department’s attention, that it’s highly uncalled for and something should be done, then I truly feel like this fireman should be let go, as well,” Foist said.
Dennis Schwein, owner of The Flying Pink Pig BBQ, said he didn’t fire Foist, but that he walked out after Schwein talked to him about the fireman.
“I was there in my office (when it happened) and didn’t know about it until later,” Schwein said. “I told him he should have come and got me if he thought there was a problem, but he took it upon himself. I think he made more out of it than what happened.”
Foist said he got to work 45 minutes early the Friday morning after the alleged incident, and he ran out to buy a pack of cigarettes and to stop by to see his mom at work before he had to clock in at 9 a.m.
“As I was walking in (at his mother’s workplace) Dennis calls and says, ‘You forgot to leave your work keys,’” Foist said. “That, to me, is being fired, terminated, let go.”
In 21 years of working, Foist said he has never left a job without giving two weeks’ notice.
Foist feels so strongly about what happened he has been in contact with the Human Rights Commission in Columbus, he said. Seymour does not have a human rights group, but Columbus’ Human Rights Commission has no jurisdiction in Seymour.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Columbus’ Human Rights Commission couldn’t help, said Molly Connor, deputy director of the commission.
“The commission has provided technical assistance to individuals and/or organizations outside of its geographical jurisdiction,” she said.
Connor said she could not comment about Foist’s complaints due to confidentiality.
“Because the commission’s intake process is confidential, the commission cannot comment about an alleged complaint with a potential complainant to the media,” she said.
Foist said he didn’t think there was anything the group could do except demand a public apology from the firefighter, the fire department, the city and the owners of the restaurant on his behalf and make sure the story was shared with media outlets across the state and country.
But he wants to see if the city is going to do anything first, he said.
Foist said he has been called a lot worse, but for the first time, he was offended that someone would assume he or anyone else is an illegal immigrant.
His mother, Adela Foist, who is from Arizona, also spoke in support of her son, who she said was done an injustice.
She said the family has been a part of the Seymour community since 1979, when her husband decided to move them to his home state of Indiana.
“He not only insulted my son, he insulted my whole family,” Adela Foist said of the fireman’s comments.
She said she has always worked to welcome people of different races and backgrounds to the community.
“I really felt that I was embraced myself, but to hear that a civil servant made a comment like that, it cut deep,” she said.
Adela said the city should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism, bigotry and hatred.
“I love this community, but the guy was way out of line, and just the fact that you’re giving us the opportunity to speak, to me, that’s great,” she said. “I appreciate it so much, but we all have to work together in the community to keep that kind of racism out.”
She volunteered to help the city in spreading that message.
“I just want to be a voice for all of the Hispanic community that is here,” she said.